NEW DELHI: After five years, India and Japan on Saturday concluded negotiations on a civil nuclear agreement, overcoming Tokyo’s concern over New Delhi’s non-adherence to international non-proliferation treaties.
According to a senior Japanese official, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe complimented his counterpart Narendra Modi on accomplishing the deal during their discussions saying “no other leader could have done this”. The civil nuclear deal is part of a bouquet of 16 agreements, which include India’s first bullet train with a package of $12 billion, and two defence deals on transfer of technology and protection of classified information. They were unveiled after summit-level talks between Modi and his “personal friend” Abe in the afternoon.
For India and Japan, a psychological Rubicon has been crossed with the finalisation of the “substantive” portion of the civil nuclear deal, which will now allow third country firms with Japanese partnership to enter the Indian N-market.
“The memorandum we signed on civil nuclear energy cooperation is more than just an agreement for commerce and clean energy. It is a shining symbol of a new level of mutual confidence and strategic partnership in the cause of a peaceful and secure world,” said Modi in his statement after the talks in Hyderabad House.
In fact, PM Modi’s characterisation of the civil nuclear deal as having a larger strategic import gave a not-so-subtle hint about why Tokyo overcame its historical sensitivity over issues of nuclear proliferation.
With China breathing down the neck and trying to change the balance in Asia, empowering India with a nuclear deal means that it will create space for Japanese firms and give fillip to Western nuclear companies waiting in the wings - all of which will provide a leg-up to New Delhi, economically and strategically.
“I know the significance of this decision for Japan. And, I assure you that India deeply respects that decision and will honour our shared commitments,” said Modi.
It was a recognition that Japan, as the only country to be the victim of nuclear bombs, had a much more difficult road to cross in inking a nuclear deal with a country, which has not signed the NPT (Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
There is, however, some more distance to travel, as the inking of the MoU basically marked the “concluding of the negotiations”. The joint statement released by both sides said: “Agreement will be signed after the technical details are finalised, including those related to the necessary internal procedures.”
The Japanese delegation characterised Saturday’s development as reaching an “agreement in principle”. “On our side, this agreement will also undergo scrutiny of the Japanese parliament, as under Constitution,” said Japanese foreign ministry’s foreign press secretary Yasuhisa Kawamura. Both sides, however, did not give any timeline for concluding the final draft.
India had begun negotiations with Japan for a civilian nuclear deal in 2010, but it went into dormancy for some years due to Fukushima nuclear disaster. After it began again, the main sticking point was on Indian assurance about not conducting another nuclear test.
Since India was not willing to give a new assurance to Japan, the compromise seems to be go back to Delhi’s “commitment and actions” in 2008, which led Nuclear Suppliers Group to give a waiver to the South Asian giant.
“We have put the NPT issue behind us with Japan’s help in 2008 when the nuclear suppliers group decided to make an exception for India and Japan supported that,” said foreign secretary S Jaishankar.
On the issue of testing, India had a “long-standing position,” said Jaishankar, noting that the global community’s exception for India in NSG was also predicated on voluntary moratorium.
“India’s word (on tests) is credible, India’s word is serious... If they (Japan) were not convinced, would they have done the (nuclear) deal?” he asked.
He said the deal “was in line with India’s commitments and actions, expressed in 2008 and which continues till this day.” “There is no inconsistency… even though you (India) did not sign NPT,” he said.
Besides the voluntary moratorium, Indian commitment included the separation of civilian and military facilities.